The cells that produce myelin in the brain and spinal cord, called oligodendrocytes, may play an active role in the onset or progression of multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a study combining data from MS mouse models and the human brain.
This discovery supports the idea that in the context of MS, oligodendrocytes could act similarly to immune cells, a finding that may underpin new therapies targeted to these cells, rather than only to the immune system.
The study, “Disease-specific oligodendrocyte lineage cells arise in multiple sclerosis,” was published in the journal Nature Medicine.
Oligodendrocytes are one of the most abundant cell types of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), and the ones responsible for producing the myelin sheaths that insulate nerve fibers and allow electrical impulses to be quickly transmitted.
A team led by researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have now found that oligodendrocytes, besides being producers of myelin, might be important players in the development of neurological diseases like MS.
Researchers took an in-depth look at the profile of active and silenced genes in spinal cord oligodendrocytes of MS mouse models — namely the experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) model that mimics several aspects of MS.
They analyzed the patterns of gene expression using a recent technique called single-cell RNA sequencing, which delivers a snapshot of the genetic activity of individual cells, providing scientists with clues about their properties and functions.
Researchers saw that when MS-like disease was induced in mice, a group of oligodendrocytes and their precursor cells appeared, which had a unique pattern of gene expression. Specifically, they shared properties with cells belonging to the immune system.
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